Lee Westwood, who came from seven shots back going into the last round to win the 1999 Smurfit European Open, returns this week to defend his crown against a field of the highest quality at The K Club, County Kildare.
Westwood closed with a stunning 65 last year to overhaul his friend and ISM stable-mate, Darren Clarke, who had set several records on his way to establishing a six stroke lead over the field after 54 holes.
Clarke became the first player on the European Tour to shoot 60 twice, while that second round score contained a record-equalling 12 birdies and eight in succession. However a final round of 75 meant that Clarke finished in a share of second place with Peter O'Malley.
Westwood has struck a rich vein of form since the Benson & Hedges International Open in May, when he admitted he was out of sorts. Since then he has won the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe and the Compaq European Grand Prix, finished second in the Volvo PGA Championship, fourth in the Compass Group English Open and fifth in the US Open.
Colin Montgomerie, who has yet to add the Smurfit European Open title to his vast array of silverware, returns after a two-week break to begin his assault on three of the biggest prizes of the season. After this week he defends the Standard Life Loch Lomond before attempting to capture The Open Championship at the Home of Golf, St.Andrews.
Reigning Open champion Paul Lawrie is another who begins a three week run at The K Club, culminating in his defence of the Claret Jug later this month. Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, José Maria Olazábal and Ian Woosnam, - major champions all - will be in Co. Kildare to add to the quality of the field.
Several alterations have been made to the 2005 Ryder Cup venue. The most notable change is the switching of the two loops of nine, with the exception of the ninth and 18th holes which will still be played in that order. This procedure is being tested with a view to furthering the challenge of the course for the Ryder Cup, to produce a fair and exacting test and improving crowd movement.
The main reason for the change is to improve crowd movement through the closing holes particularly through the old 16th and 17th. This year, the 17th will be the hole which was the eighth last year, and a new tee has been constructed, adding 50 yards to the hole which becomes a challenging tee shot across water.
Meanwhile, a further 250 semi-mature trees have been planted in areas all over the course while the European Tour Administration have been working closely with Paul McGinley, The K Club touring professional, in re-shaping the fairways.